NSW Office of Water
Water Wise Ones Interviews

George Gates

Director, Water Management

and Implementation

Interview Date: 13 August, 2011

Interviewed by: Stephanie Lang

Transcribed by: Glenys Murray


George could you please give us an overview of your career?

Well I’ve worked in the water industry for forty years. Then I’ve had three years in a private firm, Australian Groundwater Consultants. I came back into NSW Government in a regional position based at Leeton. I spent four years down there in the irrigation areas and districts, which was very enjoyable finding out about the history of the place. I also in the late 1980’s early 90’s spent a year in the UK on a secondment. Working on contaminated lands in the Midlands of the UK around Birmingham, I was fortunate to be sent over there. I guess I’ve progressed slowly up the promotional ladder as time’s gone on. It’s only in recent times that I’ve found myself in a purely managerial position.

George Gates, Aug 2011

In all of that time what has been most satisfying to you?

I guess the work has kept changing. We were dealing with sustainability issues. We were dealing with salinity issues, groundwater dependent ecosystem issues. Now we’re dealing with the coal seam gas issues. So that continuous change has been enjoyable. We haven’t stayed stagnant in any one place. I also find its very satisfying working out the sustainability numbers to go in our Water Sharing Plans and then having battles with the Commonwealth over their Basin Plan. We have a lot of experience over decades and they’re new people to this particular game. So we’re having tussles about those numbers.

Other things include watching people grow. It’s really interesting watching people come in and grow and get into their career. It’s got to a point now where I feel comfortable about handing the reigns over to forty year olds who are at the top of their career.

They’re some of the satisfying areas of my work.

You mentioned the Water Sharing Plans. Can you just touch on what those are and how you input into those?

Water Sharing Plans are where we put all the rules together for water management both surface and groundwater. The regulated rivers have been highly structured and have a lot of rules around them. That sort of approach has had to go to the unregulated river plans and into the groundwater plans. For the last decades that we’ve been putting extraction limits to those plans and those rules. We’ve been forced down this pathway of looking down the hydraulic connection between the surface and groundwater. We’ve known about for a long time and I was recently reading a report in 1984 which mentions it. But we’ve now had to put it into our water sharing plans. I take my hat off to the planning and policy people. We’ve now found a way to write formulas into the plans. We credit people’s accounts according to that formula. That formula relates back to the connection that we see between the groundwater and the surface water.

From a science perspective what do think are the most important things to understand about groundwater?

Firstly I’d say that for a long time now I keep hearing that groundwater is a “black art” and not so much a science. But I can assure everyone that we just work to scientific principles, geological principles. Formula about groundwater flow system and models that have been around for a long time, being accepted around the world, a lot of the work that we do in groundwater isn’t the high end science. But we have to plug into the high end science. We’re connected with various universities, CSIRO. They like to work with us because we’re industry. So we get to get across the high end science without really being that end ourselves. Particular areas that come to mind are isotopes for groundwater. So we can now date how old the groundwater is. They’re even doing DNA on plants just to see how much groundwater they extract out of the Water Table. There are various geophysical techniques that are advancing all the time.

We don’t have to be working on those but we try and pick them up and put them into our management, when they get to a stage where we can do that. We are connected into the science but we’re not leading the science.

Windmill - taken 1989

You mentioned surface and groundwater. How is surface and groundwater managed together?

We certainly acknowledge the connection now. We’re doing that in our highly connected alluvial aqua systems. So that they make up one plan, one set of rules. Water gets put into both surface and groundwater accounts according to a formula. That formula is based on some modeling and some science around that connection so that we can sell that to the community. I think that we’re probably leaders in Australia on that. National Water Commission requires us to do that. You could say the whole country has been slow in doing it. I think these last couple of water sharing plans that have come out have shown the extent to which we have advanced in that area.

One of the other things to understand about groundwater, people get confused or there is a lack of understanding about the Water Table versus the deeper groundwater which is a pressure surface. Those two things don’t work necessarily in unison. It’s often difficult for the general public to understand how a pressure surface can be going down and all their bore water levels are going down. But the actual Water Table can be going up. Those things we need to take the time to explain that to our rural community. How those things can happen. There’s certainly science in what we do. We need to get across a level of science but it’s not the high end area where the research is happening.

As a Director of the branch what are the key issues that you make decisions about?

I get to sign off on a lot of technical reports and Ministerial briefings. I work on the branch priorities and the branch budget. I also get involved in staff decisions when there are issues between staff or there is OH&S issues which need to be resolved. For the former things like the technical output, I’m very concerned about the quality of the product. Very concerned that the language is appropriate to the audience and that the grammar is perfect. We sometimes have to do multiple versions to get that right before it goes up on the Web page.

In terms of responsibilities about staff and staff training, I guess people who put in a big effort at work really see themselves getting offered the training. The exceptions to that might be where we need to bring someone up to scratch in say writing skills or something similar. We’ll single them out for training to try to bring them along. They’re some of the things that you get to do at the Director level.

ERO George and Digby, May 2011

What have been the significant policy issues and changes that you have seen over your career?

I guess the big one is moving to this whole sustainability managing surface and groundwater to a water budget and that water budget being based on sustainability principles. That harks back to 1994 COAG work that came out. Then we followed that in 2000 with a change to the Water Management Act. That was all underpinning that sustainability. We saw water sharing plans roll out the door from 2004. We’ve had a lot of policy development to keep up with our thinking in that planning area. The only thing that I think is missing there is the whole debate about mining and coal seam gas. So I guess that is a new area. The Aquifer Interference policy is certainly going to help us move through that issue.

There were issues before sustainability and there’ll be issues following the sustainability. But that’s the big one that’s the one that is driving all the water reforms. We’re still in water reform so I expect that we’ll be in that probably for the rest of the decade.

What was the sustainability change? What was different after that, after COAG?

We were really required to account for where water went to. So that we needed to have better metres on extraction points, we needed to have better data systems so we could control all our data. We needed to have better compliance so that people were sticking with the volumes that they’d been given in their entitlements. It was really doing a water budget approach to water management. Prior, to that we had been given our entitlements quite loosely with some notional numbers in our heads that this was the upper limit. Even now it is not as tight as it could be in other states. NSW at least licenses the mining industry. The other states don’t so there is a whole group of users of water that don’t have to account for it.

The sustainability push was really because there is water shortage. All the big changes in water policy came as a result of water shortage. We brought in water licensing in a drought, we bring in a basin plan after a ten year drought. So they’re all linked back to that whole water shortage debate.

You’ve mentioned COAG and a couple of the major policy changes that have happened. What do you think are the key historical decisions or documents that have influenced water management decision making?

I guess in recent times the 2007 Commonwealth Water Act and the following 2008 Intergovernment Agreement where NSW referred their water powers to the Commonwealth, are two milestone documents. Which mean we’ll have to with our water management fall into fitting with their planning. We get to influence their planning a bit. Our plans will have to be compliant to their requirements. That’s all new for us. I’m not sure how much work that will take.

Historically there are some interesting old documents. I hark back to the Great Artesian Conferences. There were five conferences between 1912 and 1928. They’re marvelously reported documents. I’m on the current Great Artesian Basin Committee and I find it interesting to think that there were people sitting around in 1912 to 1928 debating the same sort of things that I’m sitting and doing now. I just find that… we owe these people a lot for getting us to where we are. I’m interested in that historical aspect. I was recently reading a 1984 document on groundwater and it’s not that far out of date from today. They’re talking about the connection with the surface water. Having to manage it conjunctively, the difference is they never really got to do it. There was a lot of work and we’re only doing it now in 2011 in any reasonable way.

George Gates, May 2011

What are the sorts of issues that were being discussed in those very historical documents that relate to the work that you’re doing now?

It was very much about water wastage, and about finding the money to build infrastructure. Then it was all about using gravity to move water down open bore drains and open up the country. That opening up the country probably lasted up until the late 1980’s.

Developing groundwater systems, surface water systems were seen as a positive thing for the state and for the nation. Environment took a back seat. Still had the normal issues of fighting between the various parties that sit around the tables. Those things haven’t changed. What is happening now of course is that environment got very much a front seat. We’re trying to recover water from the environment. We’re trying to put infrastructure in place that saves water. All those open bore drains are very much frowned upon now. Even local communities have their champions that go around and help us sell the message of getting rid of bore drains and putting everything under pipes.

In the 1984 report we were trying to define the size of the water sources. The thought about how much they recharged or what was a sustainable extraction limit was very much secondary, just to find out whether it was salty water or fresh water. They were the issues. We were running out big drilling programmes in the 80’s to find those things out.

We’ve come along a logical progression in management. Our data systems have had to keep being improved and our communication systems… We didn’t have community consultation that we do now. Now we very much try to bring the community along with us. Back then we would indicate what we thought should happen and the community would “like it or lump it”.

We’ve moved a long way in my time at work.

That leads us then onto the next question which is what are the key social and economic issues that impact on the management of surface water and groundwater? If you could in that question do some historical comparisons not only about what the issues are but what is different? What has changed in the management of those issues over time?

I’d start by saying that we’ve got a three billion dollar irrigation industry. We’ve taken a triple bottom line to managing the water sources that supply that industry. What we’ve done there is acknowledge that the value of extracting this water is high. We’ve had to put the environment front and centre in our Water Act. Unlike the initial versions of the Murray-Darling Plan we’ve come from a triple bottom line approach for the last five or six years. So we’re well placed to input into the planned debate at the Murray-Darling Basin level.

I guess what’s historically changed there is that we were all about developing early on. We’ve over allocated and now we need to have ways of managing within some sort of cap limit. In the groundwater game we’ve made the decision to reduce the entitlements a few years ago for the big six alluvial aquifer systems and we spent one hundred and thirty million dollars doing it. It landed us up in a lot of court cases. Some went as high as the High Court. We’re not going to do that again because it is just too much pain. There are other ways to do it. We’re going to let the market sort out the over allocation. For the smaller alluvial aquifers that are over allocated we’re going to manage them to an extraction limit. If we see growth above that extraction limit either on a rolling average, like a five year rolling average. If we see that growth then we’re going to reduce the amount of water we put into people’s accounts the following years to get the extraction back down. What that means is we’re going to treat everyone equally in a sense. But in another sense those high end users will be the ones that feel the pain. A low end user won’t mind if we reduce the amount of water that goes into their accounts because they’re not using it all anyway.

So there’s going to be some pain involved in managing that way but it’s seen to be fairer than going to court and fighting these battles. They’re just isn’t the money around to pay structural adjustment funding for every water source that’s out there. This latter approach is similar to the way regulated rivers have been managed for the last ten or twelve years.

Kulcurna. George, Lyn, Scott - May 2011

Has there been community involvement in the decision making around those changes that you’ve just described?

We did a lot of community consultation with the early water sharing plans. We found that it was a very slow process because you only went as fast as the weakest link in that chain. Also we weren’t really giving the community a free reign to write the plan. There were all these policy constraints they had to stay within. So it took years to get policies out the door. Then even then the various representations around the table the stock and domestics, the irrigators the environmental people they didn’t sign off on the plans anyway. We ended up having to make them the Minister’s plans. We’ve gone away from that sort of detailed community driven plan writing to the department writing the plans. Then we go out with community consultation and there’ll be a couple of (?) of a draft plan before a final plan is signed off by the Minister.

That process suits the community better. They were loaded up with a lot of decision making. They’ve not necessarily got the time to do that or the expertise to do it. I think this approach is better than the earlier approach.

One of the other key issues in managing any natural resource are cultural heritage issues. What are the sorts of cultural heritage that impact on water management and do you have any examples of that?

Well first of all I’d say cultural heritage issues weren’t round when I joined work, but they’ve certainly been around in the last ten years. We’re having to become very sensitive to cultural heritage issues. Examples of that would be we’ve recently piped water into the Gingham to save water for the environment. We’ve modified the location of the pipes so that we weren’t going across Aboriginal relics and land that they held sacred. We’ve done the best that we can to accommodate that. Each of these pipings schemes has to have the route of that scheme agreed to by the local Aboriginal groups.

Another example would be the Koondrook-Perricoota environmental watering scheme. Where we’ve had these Aboriginal monitors working there each day while we’re clearing the ground and marking trees that have to be saved because they have Aboriginal tree markings on them. Looking for relics like stone axes and chips and there is quite a few that have been found there because it is quite an old populated Aboriginal area. They’re getting paid to do that work and it’s working out quite well. We’re able to build the scheme and satisfy that cultural heritage and save those values.

Can you see any benefits to the change in approach to managing cultural heritage issues?

There’s another example down at Lake Victoria which is an off river storage to put water in for South Australia. There’s a lot of Aboriginal grave sites, historic grave sites there. There’s Aboriginal Park people who look after that site and rebury bones as they’re washed out of the sand dunes. There’s a lot of acceptance of that today that wasn’t around when I first joined work. To the point that people are coming from far and wide to study these sites and we’re working hand in hand with operating those off river storages with maintaining the cultural value of the sand dunes. There’s even going to be a small compound built there for the present day people. So they can go out there and spend time in that area.

I think there’s more win-win situations than there ever was before.

George Gates, Lake Vic, May 2011

What are the key environmental issues that impact on your decisions? What would be interesting to know is how that’s changed over time?

I’m going to narrow that question down to one area that’s really picked up in recent years. That’s the whole issue of groundwater dependant ecosystems. These are the swamps that people have been filling in, the lowlands. They’ve now got a profile. The policy for managing those has been up and running for a while, it’s just that the science is lagging behind. We don’t know the value of the plants that are in there. We’re not sure about the extent to which they take groundwater in the dry times and surface water in the wet times. The science has been catching up. There’s now satellite imagery that we’re trying to use to decide which parts of the landscape are drinking groundwater versus the other ones that aren’t. It’s an area to “watch this space”. A lot of that information has not yet gone into water sharing plans. I think I was indicating before they’re even doing DNA on certain plants to see where they get their water from. We know more about the historical groundwater dependant ecosystem. We know about the limestone cave systems with their blind fish and things. We know about the mound springs that are associated with the Great Artesian Basin outflows.

Those icon sites they’re fine they’ve been put into the water sharing plans. They’re priority ecosystems. The other smaller ones, we’re not sure how valuable they are. There’s even ecosystems that live within the aquifer that might be a hundred metres or hundreds of metres down. They’re called Stygofauna and we know next to nothing about those. We make an assumption that they are virtually everywhere and that we don’t have to concern ourselves too much about them. If we wipe them out then they’ll repopulate from another area. This is a whole area of adaptive management that will probably see progress over decades rather than years.

We’ve touched on the key social, economic, cultural heritage, environmental issues that impact on the work that you do. What are the political issues that impact on your work?

The key one that’s happened in the last couple of years is the rise of the Commonwealth in this space of water management. There’s been a promise of large dollars for implementing the water reforms. We haven’t seen a lot of that come through. Commonwealth bureaucracies have certainly grown and there’s promises of funding to come through. We’re still waiting on that coming through. They have been giving money out to the research institutions and because we’re tied into those we’ve seen some of that. Dollars came our way for various projects. The area that concerns me a little is we’ll have to implement the Commonwealth Water Act through our water sharing plans. There’ll be quite a lot of work to be done there and who pays for that additional work. That’s another political area that’s being nutted out at the moment.

The other one of course is the change of the department reasonably regularly and the impact that that has on staff morale and just productivity while you go through that change. Personally I’ve lost my job on three occasions and sometimes as much as for eighteen months. Now that’s not good for productivity. In each case I’ve obviously been re-employed and you continue on. That sort of chopping and changing all the time is just not good for morale and productivity. To the extent that we can we should try and limit that. Having said that each government has a right to run its state agencies the way they see fit. So if we don’t like it we can always leave.

Drilling production bore for Wagga Wagga

What water management and policy issues do you feel need urgent attention within the Murray-Darling Basin?

Things such as the water sharing plans that had to be turned off in the drought. Obviously they didn’t stand up to extremely low flows. We’ll have to review those and decide how they might need to be changed so that when the next drought comes along we don’t have to turn them off again and do our separate management outside the water sharing plan. That’s an area of work for us probably starting next year. Some of these plans are coming up to their ten year reviews. We want to start looking at that two years out from the review date.

Other areas of policy that need to be advanced, we’ve spoken about the Aquifer Interference policy and how that some good levers for managing particularly mine inflows. Coal seam gas inflows have some really good levers. That leads to then unwritten policies on other areas that need to come up.

We don’t have a policy on unassigned water so many of our water sharing plans have unassigned water. But we have no policy in this new modern way of managing on how we’re going to distribute that water. In the past we’ve given it away for free. As many people think well that really should cease and there should be a charge on water. We don’t give any land away for free anymore. We did half a century and a century ago.

So there’s policies on how to sell that water. To tender the water out or have auctions. We did have an auction of some water twelve months ago so we have some experience in how to do that if we want to go that way.

There’s another concept called managed aquifer recharge where there is surplus surface water, how we might be able to put it under the ground and store it for a period. Then extract it.

The coal seam gas is going to generate a lot of water. We’re pushing that industry to put it back under the ground. We need to have a policy about when it’s put back under the ground, who owns it. Do we give them licenses for the volume they put in under the ground? Do we give licenses for part of that volume because there’s going to be losses in the system?

That is a policy that needs to advance fairly rapidly in the next twelve months. This is a big industry knocking on our doorstep.

Another area that’s of interest is called offsets. Where we recognise that the groundwater and the surface water are hydraulically connected and before we give out anymore groundwater licenses and anymore groundwater volumes we need to do something about the impact that’s going to cause on the surface water. If for instance we were to give out a hundred units of ground water and it was to have a twenty unit impact on the surface water flows. Then really we should purchase and retire that impact in giving out that hundred. So we need to work a policy around that so that we can continue to give out groundwater but have no further impact on our surface water flows. The problem there is we don’t know the currency between those two terribly well. So maybe we’ll have to be conservative when we do this. There’s a lot more work in that particular policy area that needs to continue on.

The other area is water quality. The water plan for the Basin is not just a water sharing plan. It also has a water quality component. We’re going to have to pick up on that water quality component and put it inter our water sharing plans or something similar. That’s going to be new for us in some areas and we’re going to have to live by the triggers that are in these water plans. So there is a whole are of policy and planning that needs to go round water quality. We haven’t really tackled head on to the extent that the Basin Plan would require us to do.

You mentioned aquifer interference and coal seam gas a couple of times. Is there more that you would like to say on either of those topics?

Just that it is high profile. We will need to be in that game and marking our territory in terms of our water management role. I think we’re probably doing that. Queensland have taken a different approach. They have a whole area of government looking after it. We’ve got an interagency committee. I think if it take off here then we might have to do more than that so that people are actually sitting together that are working on this issue. That’s just crystal ball gazing.

I recently had an opportunity to calculate the volumes of water that might be extracted in the future with coal seam gas. If we were to charge for that water then we would get quite a substantial income to be able to do some of this work. So I’m hoping that this new Government might consider that as a reasonable approach to having the industry pay its way. So we’ll see where that goes in the next six to twelve months.

Darlington Point Field Day - 1986

What do you think are the main risks for the business of the Office of Water?

We struggle with budgets in recent years. I think we struggle with an identity because there’s a lot of Government agencies that have water in the title. State Water, Sydney Water and NSW Office of Water, so I think we need to mark our ground, to get on the front foot and market ourselves. Our Commissioner is always pushing us to do that. We really need to heed his words and lift our game. We need other people to fight our battles for us. In terms of saying that we’re doing a good job or what we need to be working on. So we need some outside help to give us a profile. Irrigators Council comes to mind. We don’t always see eye to eye with them but we need to be servicing them well. We always subject to change and that subject to change hasn’t necessarily been a good thing internally. We lose a lot of momentum, there’s a lot of anxiety around change time, so some of those things are all risks to our products.

I think one of the good things that I’ve seen recently is our Web page. The products on that seem to be high standard. You can get instantaneous information on flows, river heights on dam storage levels. You can get reports. We’re catching up in that area quite nicely. Our data systems seem to be catching up quite nicely so we’ve got some good things going for us. I get frustrated with the budget problems that we run into almost annually.

Just thinking a little differently, if you could go back in time and change anything from your career, what might you do differently?

I’m not sure that I’d do too much differently. Working in the water industry has been very enjoyable. I see a lot of people like myself that work in it for a long time. I guess maybe the only advice I would give is to be your self. Maybe learn from what others do, what you see and the good bits. Maybe take some of that on, but not try to be them. Just be yourself, be your own character. I think that would stand anyone in good stead. I’m not sure… I mean I got sort of promoted into senior management late in life and that was good for me. Because I was at the coal face working for a long time, I’m the sort of person that needs experience because I’m always falling back on experience to make judgments. That’s been good for me. I’d also say that you come across people during your work career that you don’t necessarily get along with a hundred percent. But you’ve just got to live with it. They’ve got a right to exist too and often the problem goes away and get over it. Anyway I’m not sure that I’ve got too much more to add advice wise.

Hydrometric team taken on 19/8/2009

What do you consider the keys to your success as a manager of staff located across the state? You’ve got people in lots of different locations?

Yes I think I’ve got about a hundred and twenty people in about ten different locations. I guess I’m a people person. I like people I’m interested in them and I’m interested in their families. I like to visit their office when I can. I like to talk to my team leaders once a week if I can. I have branch meetings once a month to every six weeks. So I enjoy that sort of downloading of information and passing of information across. I also don’t like to micromanage. I never liked it when it happened to me. I like to leave problems with the team leaders and just be there as a sounding board for them to talk to you if a problem is not sorting itself out. I have some managers that… interestingly they’ll tell me a problem, just an outline of a problem and then they’ll say “but I think it’s sorted now”. That’s great for anyone to think that they’ve sorted it out and then they come and tell you, that’s wonderful.

I do like getting out in the field so I spent a lot of my career in the field. I feel like I have something to offer on the technical side. That probably helps me a bit on the management side. Having said that I have some really good managers, in the surface water area I’m reliant on them getting me the right answers, because it’s not my area of expertise. What I’m trying to do there is give them room to actually work out the solutions and then talk to me about them.

What we can’t do really as manager is find people a pay increase. We’re not in the private enterprise. We don’t come to our managers once a year and seek a pay increase. We’ve got a certain grade and that doesn’t change until someone vacates a higher grade and you’re successful in going into it. There’s limits to the way that you can reward people. There are small ways like conferences and writing papers and getting to do some training so we put a bit of effort into those small ways.

Pumping bore Steam Plains 2008

You mentioned that surface water is not your area of expertise. Could you talk a little bit about what is your area of expertise?

My area of expertise is groundwater. Being a hydro geologist for nearly forty years and groundwater manager for the last four years, so that’s my strength. That’s where I come to various committees that I’m on.

I got into this broader water management role because my colleague Peter Christmas retired and there was a vacancy. I had a choice of passing that up or applying for it. Everyone says that if you pass it up then you have to accept whoever they put in that position. So I took the choice to apply for it and was successful about four months ago. I mean I can’t change my expertise across to the surface water so I’m very much reliant on those people who manage surface water to give me good advice in that area. To date I can tell you that they really do have their handle on the surface water. It’s an impressive bunch of people.

What changes have you seen in workplace practice over the forty years that you’ve been in the public service? To do with management practice, staff interaction, communication, technology you can choose what you would like to talk about. What do you think about those changes?

The first thing I’d say is that there is no sergeant major types anymore. When I first joined there was people that were like that. That would shout and berate you in public and call you up to their office and you’d be in dread. They quickly left and there is no place for them. I think they were around for generations before that.

Now we’re seeing Occupational Health and Safety issues coming to the fore. I personally have to watch that very carefully. I have a lot of staff on major plant, outdoors people and we do have our share of injuries. So I do need to watch that very carefully. I don’t remember that being the case when I started.

We have people with spot trackers in their cars so that when they’re in remote locations their coordinates can be relayed if they’re in any trouble. Those sorts of things weren’t around in the early days. I’m finding that the gender balance is increasing but only slowly. I think that might be in part because there aren’t as many women in geology and engineering as there is in say environmental sciences. I think if we looked in the Office of Environment we might find more of a fifty, fifty split. I’ve had a look at it and we offer a lot. Our conditions are good our field work requirements aren’t all that onerous. Though we do have field work obviously, but a lot of the young women that we haven’t been able to retain have got married and moved away with their husbands or started a family and haven’t necessarily come back. So we’ve still got a gender imbalance.

I think also there’s a big improvement in communication. You can be traveling in the country and still take calls from the Minister’s office and staff calls. You can do your emails on your phone. I think that’s all a positive. It allows me to go in the field and still be connected up.

Computer power when we used to run groundwater models it would take hours to run a run. Now it only takes minutes so we have the answer in a few minutes time. All of that is a big improvement.

I remember my boss telling me he did an inspection of a property. When he got there they mounted up onto horses and trotted out the back of the property. Well I’ve been on the back of tractors but I’ve never had to go on a horse.

Hydrogeology staff 2004

Work life balance is an oft-used phrase that is very much in vogue at the moment. How have you managed this in you work life? Do you have any suggestions to pass on?

One thing I’d lead off here was I got interested my career probably about a third of the way through it. Where I started to take it seriously and I decided that I didn’t particularly want to be average. I don’t think people should set out to be average in something that they do for their career.

So I started to write papers and give guest lectures in groundwater. Then I got more into a leadership role and I got busier and eventually ended up in this management role.

I don’t know that I was particularly good at a work life balance. I have a very good home life, very good wife. I don’t think I got the balance out of doing art things or going to plays or things of that nature. But I was more interested in doing the home thing, renovating a room or doing the garden in my balance.

I’d also say if you need to take time off, then take the time off but repay the debt. If your work’s been really good to you, as my work has and given you secondment overseas… you owe a debt and to some extent we all owe a debt to our work and we need to repay it.

That leads very nicely into the last question which is what values have guided you throughout your work period? How have they impacted on your work?

I guess I would probably call them values or character traits. As I was saying before I like people. I like the benefits of the team approach you know two heads are better than one.

I’ve learnt to like the written word. I started off as a poor writer, with a science background that’s perhaps understandable. I’ve had to learn how to write. I like the written word now. I like writing. I also would like to encourage people to acknowledge where they get an idea from. Sometimes someone just gives you an idea and it’s really good to say where you got that idea from. So that whole acknowledgement is good.

The other thing is honesty. In terms of interviews I hear people exaggerating all the time. I’d much rather there was a greater level of honesty there rather than that exaggeration. I understand why people exaggerate but I’d much prefer that.

I also prefer a short story to a long story so I don’t really like padding. Consultants reports come in and its padding and I just don’t really like that.

I value history. When I worked in Leeton I found out a bit about the history and the fact that the Department’s office was in Leeton for about thirty years before it moved to Sydney. I value those old engineers who built that whole irrigation district. I value the input that they had to the whole start of this water management. They’re some of my character traits and values.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Probably just the indebtedness that all of us owe to the people that went before us. I’ve worked for some very talented people who share their view and share their knowledge and explain how to do things. I found through my career that people are just generally like that. I’ve made some very good friends.

It’s just that whole history of the water management that’s interesting, the flurry of activity around droughts.

But it’s acknowledging what effort has gone before. I find that interesting to know what’s gone before.